COLUMNS

They’re ready at the gate

PETER MANSBRIDGE November 21 2005
COLUMNS

They’re ready at the gate

PETER MANSBRIDGE November 21 2005

They’re ready at the gate

PETER MANSBRIDGE

Make no doubt about it, the election campaign has already begun, whether the official start is this month, next month or next year. Just look at the players—they

seem all set. paul Mar-

tin is sporting his new South Beach frame, which means his handlers won’t mind him prancing about without his jacket on, a prospect they once shuddered over (of course, how often he’ll be able to strike the new slimmed-down pose in the middle of January is another thing). Stephen Harper is showcasing a fresh profile, too, but this one is in the way he handles scrums and statements—no angry man here anymore. The past two weeks have shown a new, calm Harper, the one he himself promised after the disasters of the spring, when some of his handlers felt he often looked as if he was ready to rip someone’s throat out. The true test, though, will come the first time one of his candidates starts wandering away from the approved platform.

As for the pollsters, in the past two weeks they’ve delivered numbers as varied as one can imagine, with the Liberals plummeting one minute, soaring the next. Many of them didn’t have a good 2004 campaign, and there are serious questions about the credibility of polling data these days. One high-profile pollster told me recendy that when he started a few decades ago, Canadians responded to polling calls about 80 per cent of the time. Now it’s down to less than 20 per cent. Think about that the next time you’re looking at what’s supposed to be an accurate snapshot of opinion.

As for issues, it’s an election that, thanks to the sponsorship scandal, will at least initially be all about money, your money, and whom you trust to handle it. And the promises will be coming fast and furious. Quick out of the gate, expect the Liberals to argue that the economy under their watch is booming and, surprise, they’re awash in surplus cash yet again. What to do with all those extra billions, which, let’s not forget, were at least partly lifted out of your pocket through the taxes from those September $l.40-a-litre gasoline prices. One can assume there will almost certainly be the “fiscally responsible” debt paydown promise, followed by the beat-the-others-at-their-own-game move—more money and protection for public health care, in order to outflank the NDP, and from the Conservative handbook, why not some new tax cuts for the middle class? Offer up enough and maybe people will forget old what’s-his-name, that judge with the glasses and the distinguished receding hairline who held that inquiry.

The Conservatives have already started trotting out their promises, and if last time was any indication they won’t hesitate to spend, as their 2004 list ran up a tab of almost $60 billion. Wonder if they still plan to buy those two aircraft carriers they felt were so badly needed just last year? The NDP propped up the Liberals over the past 17 months; they affected the current bottom line by rewriting this past spring’s federal budget, and aimed to do the same with health care before their cheque-writing privileges ran out. And then there’s the Bloc Québécois, the one-issue party that will never form the government because they only run 75 candidates, in Quebec. The Bloc MPs have been around so long no one even blinks anymore at the irony of it. But try to explain this to anyone outside Canada— that Bloc MPs are in Parliament solely to break up the country, and they do it using taxpayers’ money to pay for their salaries, travel and research staff. To boot, some of what they get is, like all MPs, tax-free.

Ah, taxes, especially income taxes, which are the main staple of Ottawa’s revenue base. Makes you think back to why we started paying them in the first place. The year was 1917, the Great War was a bloody stalemate of trenches, bullets and bodies, and with the federal

Paul Martin is sporting his new South Beach frame, and the Tories are offering up a calmer Stephen Harper

treasury in a debt situation that was going out of control, the government of Conservative Robert Borden began a “temporary” program of direct federal taxation. But then one thing led to another, didn’t it? The market crash, the Depression, the Second World War, the baby boom, pensions, medicare— the list of expenses, many of which made our country the envy of the world, kept growing, and that word “temporary” quietly disappeared. Then there’s the GST, the much despised seven per cent toll on almost everything you buy, put in place in 1991 by the Mulroney Conservatives. The Chrétien Liberals later campaigned as if they’d trash it the minute they got the keys to the safe. They didn’t, of course, and it continues to be a major contributing factor to the run of surpluses we’ve seen through most of the past decade.

So the question remains: who, no matter their demeanour, to trust with your money? When they start trudging up your snow-covered sidewalk, eager to thrust their campaign pamphlets into your hands, meet them at the front door—with a calculator. M